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Network, multitask, persevere: SPIE Women in Optics planner subjects share from experience

New 18-month planner includes stories, advice from 27 women in optics and photonics

16 December 2014

Eriko Watanabe, Women in Optics planner

"Girls, be ambitious!" advises Eriko Watanabe, a researcher at the University of Electro-Communications in Japan, in the SPIE 2015-2016 Women in Optics planner.


BELLLINGHAM, Washington, USA --  "Never say, 'I cannot do it'," Kirstin Baum, manager at Philipps-Universität Marburg's Department of Physics, advises young women pursuing careers in optics and photonics, in the newly released SPIE Women in Optics 18-month planner for 2015-2016. "And never be too shy to ask questions."

In the annual planner, women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) occupations ranging from university professor and laboratory researcher to entrepreneur and CEO share stories of inspiration and discuss the challenges and rewards of careers in fields not often practiced by females. The planner is available at no charge from publisher SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

Baum describes her work on a diffuse optical tomography system for small-animal imaging, along with the challenges of being a mother as well as a scientist. "Managing a family, conducting a PhD thesis, and working is challenging me every day," she says, "But women are multitasking, and I have an organizational talent."

Baum is the head of the summer school project, "Get Ahead with Optics." The program assists young female scientists with professional skills, lectures, and networking opportunities.

Also featured in the planner is the lead in optical characterization of infrared detector material at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), Linda Hoeglund. She advises young women in STEM fields to share their knowledge at conferences and networking events.

"By getting to know people in your field, you will open up doors to collaboration with others," Hoeglund says.

At JPL, Hoeglund uses infrared detectors to create temperature images that enable night vision. Her work can potentially enable fire-fighters to see and rescue people in smoke-filled buildings.

The planner features some women who work in the optics community but did not receive a STEM education.

Sheila Lamothe, who is responsible for the strategic and operational aspects of marketing for TRUMPF, explains how being a non-technical person in a technically oriented company can be a challenge. Lamothe received her BA in Hispanic studies and Asian studies from Connecticut College. By immersing herself in information about the TRUMPF product materials and asking her colleagues for assistance, she has built herself a solid foundation of laser technology knowledge.

"Nothing worth doing is easy, but the rewards make every challenging step worthwhile," Lamothe says.

Betsy Pugel, who is the deputy to the planetary protection officer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, points out that sometimes being underestimated can be an advantage.

"When I was an undergrad, people thought differently of me because I am outgoing and like people," Pugel says. "It used to frustrate me until I learned that it is an advantage to be underestimated -- that people are much more open as a consequence."

SPIE Women in Optics promotes personal and professional growth for women through community building, networking opportunities and encouraging young women to choose optics and photonics careers. To receive a copy of the planner, email pascale@spie.org.

The 2015-2016 planner is sponsored by Edmund Optics, nLIGHT, TRUMPF, and Inrad Optics.

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 256,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided more than $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2013.


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